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Difference Between Autotrophs and Heterotrophs

Autotrophs vs Heterotrophs

All living things on Earth need food to survive. Food does not necessarily mean something that animals take in, but it can also indicate the minerals and nutrients that plants absorb as well. Saying that plants are the only sources of food would be an understatement, since plants also do need food to survive. In fact, nature has been created in such a way that everything has a role to play in the survival of all living things. With that, it is better to know how plants and animals differ in their food intake.

For plants, foods are in the form of starch and nutrients that come from the soil and sunlight. They do not need to move or scour for food, but rather, use their own inherent abilities and features to obtain the needed minerals and nutrients necessary for their own growth. Most green, leafy plants spread their leaves and stretch their branches to catch the rain and sunlight. Furthermore, they slowly dig into the soil to absorb the rich and abundant nutrients and minerals. These are the ways that plants take in the necessary components for food production. They create their own food, thus, they are called as autotrophs.

Autotrophs are those plants and some types of bacteria that create their own food to feed themselves and to help them grow. This means that they take in and absorb the important materials for food formation. For plants, they create food through the process of photosynthesis. In this process, the raw nutrients and minerals that they have obtained are collected into specialized cells. These cells then absorb sunlight and transform them into energy to assist in food conversion. Thus, they create their own food for self-consumption. Lastly, autotrophs are more commonly known as producers.

Aside from that, all animals and other organisms that cannot create their own food are categorized as heterotrophs, including us.Simply speaking, we are the consumers that need external sources for food. Since we don’t develop our own food, we commonly take it through the act of eating, wherein food is digested and absorbed. This method indicates that we rely on outside sources for energy production, for preservation of life and maintenance of our health. Without food, we could never survive.

These are the basic differences between an autotroph and a heterotroph. Thereby, it is important that we should appreciate where our food comes from. Human beings, generally referred to as omnivores, are considered at the top of the food chain, and therefore, can eat both edible plants and animals.

You can read further if you want to know more since only basic details are presented here.


1. Food is an important source of nutrients, minerals, and necessary organic compounds.

2. Usually referred to as producers, autotrophs are organisms that produce their own food through natural processes.

3. Usually referred to as consumers, heterotrophs need external sources of food to survive.

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